The Round of 16

Uruguay v Portugal
France v Argentina
Brazil v Mexico
Belgium v Japan
Russia v Spain
Croatia v Denmark
Switzerland v Sweden
England v Japan

So I got 14 out of 16 qualifiers right. Australia and Germany let me down, but I am sure I can live with the disappointment. England did get into the easy side of the draw, but against the wrong side. Belgium must be delighted to be in the half they are in. So who is going to make it into the quarter-finals?

The top half of the draw

Uruguay v Portugal

If anyone doubts that Portugal are not a one man team look no further than their clash with Iran. It is perplexing that Portugal, usually so cool and professional let the Iranians get under their skin. The tie was much closer than it should have been, but Portugal managed it with difficulty. Eventual World Cup winners are usually slow burners that improve with every game and Uruguay fit that bill. After narrow wins over Saudi Arabia and Egypt they capped it with a good solid win over the tournament hosts Russia. Though Russia were down to 10 men for much of the game Uruguay were already 2-0 up when Smolnikov was sent off.

This tie could be a cracking game, a classic with Ronaldo and Suarez turning on the style. Or it could descend into a cynical, kicking, spitting, fouling, biting match of misery. Indeed it could be both, start off brilliantly before the madness takes over. Either way it will be entertaining, but I feel Uruguay will edge it.

France v Argentina

This tie could also be a memorable one. France are yet to fully establish themselves in the competition and a match against Argentina might be the catalyst they need. France did struggle against a physical Australia, edged out an exciting Peru and played out a boring draw with Denmark to win the group. This could be all they have though. The squad looks better than these results would suggest.

Argentina have their problems that is obvious, but apart from being found out by a smart Croatia, Messi has managed to pull them through the group stage. That late win against Nigeria might have postponed their inevitable downfall, a bit like Germany’s late win over Sweden. I expect France to improve enough to be too strong for Argentina. The only thing that could save Argentina is an outstanding performance by Messi.

Brazil v Mexico

Brazil have started to look ominous as the tournament has gone on. They were caught cold by Switzerland, left it late against Costa Rica, but looked better against a dangerous Serbia. Brazil’s central defence looks vulnerable and Neymar is still unconvincing. Unlike Portugal, Brazil are not a one man team and they look to be improving just as the competition is heating up. Mexico looked great against Germany and South Korea, but the humbling by Sweden may point to the fact they have peaked too soon. Brazil should win this one.

Belgium v Japan

We have yet to see what Belgium are capable of. The golden generation rolled over Tunisia and Panama easily enough, and the reserves match against England reserves proved very little. Japan beat a 10 man Colombia, drew with a strong Senegal side, but lost to a poor Polish side. Japan are well organised, but they are the weakest link and Belgium should brush them aside.

Bottom half of the draw

Russia v Spain

Russia who had look very ordinary coming into the tournament, played well in their first two games before reverting back to type against an improving Uruguay. The hosts do have a chance against a surprisingly fragile Spain. Spain’s match with Portugal was the game of the group stages, but since then they have failed to live up to the early promise. That draw with Morocco was disturbing, maybe Spain have their problems as well.

With host advantage Russia will have a good chance. Spain should be too strong for Russia though, but roared on by the home crowd I would not be surprised to see a Russian victory. With all things being equal though I would expect Spain to be too skilful for Russia.

Croatia v Denmark

Croatia looked brilliant against Argentina and good enough against Nigeria and Iceland, beating both with a minimum of effort. Denmark have battled and scrapped through their group in an uninspiring manor, but I expect Croatia will have far too much guile for them.

Switzerland v Sweden

The World Cup Final for the awkward squad. Of the two Switzerland have looked the better all-round team. Drawing with Brazil, beating a tricky Serbia and seeing off Costa Rica looks more impressive than Sweden’s three group games. Sweden did push Germany to the brink and they hammered an over confident Mexico, but Switzerland looks the more likely winners in this tie.

England v Colombia

And finally England? Colombia will be no push overs and they were worthy winners of their group. They would have beaten Japan with 11 players, they outclassed Poland and out muscled Senegal to get to the knockout stage. They will be dangerous opponents for England and the Three Lions will have to be at their best and take their chances if they are too go through. This will be a tough match, but England have every chance of beating them and getting to the last eight. We will leave the dreaming about a semi-final place for later I think.

Expected quarter-finals

Uruguay v France
Brazil v Belgium
Spain v Croatia
Switzerland v England

We shall see

 

David Coalman 29th June 2018